Until this point, despite having the environmental impact and energy consumption of a wealthy nation, China has maintained that it is a developing nation and as such would not submit to any binding emission reductions. Photo: Ricky Qi/Creative Commons.
Some truly interesting news coming out of the COP16 climate talks in Cancun: Reuters reports that China has offered to make its voluntary carbon emission reduction target binding under a UN resolution. China maintains that this reduction target would be separate from any legally-binding targets rich nations make. Nevertheless, and on the face of it (details may change), this is a hugely positive development.China's Foreign Ministry envoy at the climate change talks, Huang Hulkang, said,
We can create a resolution and that resolution can be binding on China. Under the [UN Climate] Convention, we can even have a legally binding decision. We can discuss the specific form. We can make our efforts a part of international efforts. We're willing to compromise; we're willing to play a positive and constructive role, but on this issue [the Kyoto Protocol] there's no room for compromise
Under the Kyoto Protocol, China is not required to making the sort of legally-binding emissions reductions that the Europe, Japan and others are required--remember that the US isn't part of that deal.
When Kyoto was signed China's environmental impact was significantly lower than it is today; now it is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases as a nation, it's average per capita emissions are higher than those of France, it is is the world's largest national consumer of energy, and even taking away all the goods it manufactures for export its ecological footprint is such that we'd still need 1.2 planets if every person on Earth consumed resources like the average Chinese citizen.
Yet, until this latest overture the official Chinese position was that it was still a developing nation and while it would voluntarily reduce its greenhouse gases it would not submit to any binding emission reduction targets, under any international scheme.
While it remains to be seen what the details on how much China would be willing to further reduce emissions--IEA analysis earlier in the year said the nation's emissions had to peak by 2020 for the world to make deep enough global emission reduction to avoid the worst of climate change--but as one analyst quoted by Reuters said (and I'd agree), this is a gamechanger.
And believe me, I don't even really like the phrase 'gamechanger'--but a door has been opened here that didn't seem like it would ever be opened.
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More on Climate Change & China:
China in Denial About Becoming World's Largest Energy Consumer
China's Ecological Footprint Unsustainable - We'd Still Need 1.2 Planets If Everyone Had It
China's Carbon Emissions Need to Peak by 2020 for World to Meet Global Reduction Goals: IEA